Welcome to “Recapping the Realm,” where each week ScreenCrush senior editor Erin Whitney is joined by Tyler McCarthy and Kelly Lawler for a SPOILER-filled discussion of the latest Game of Thrones. This week, Erin, Tyler, and Kelly discuss season finale “Winds of Winter” (full episode review here). Tyler is an Assistant Managing Editor at Odyssey. You can tweet at him at @TylerMcCarthy. Kelly is an Entertainment Writer and Social Media Editor at USA Today. You can tweet at her at @klawls.

Erin: I often try to tone down my hype for a Game of Thrones episode, but my reaction to last night can only be described in emoji:  😱 😱 😱.

The Season 6 finale was, in my opinion, the best episode of the series. And as you both know, I haven’t been loving this season and found it relatively weak, especially in comparison to Season 5, which I think is the best to date. But for all the dull, stalled plot lines and forgettable dialogue this season, the finale wrapped each story up in a perfect bow that was packed with victory and thrills. The pacing was also impressive and never felt rushed like last year’s finale. (Hey HBO, give us more extra-long episodes next year please!)

There is so much to talk about, so let’s start at the beginning. Cersei’s wildfire move was incredible (second best evil smile of the season goes to Lena Heady), even if somewhat expected. I was questioning the elimination of the Trial by Combat at first, but this was a smart move to knock out a handful of characters at once to set the board for Season 7. And good lord, that Tommen shot was breath-taking and upsetting (and reminded me of a fantastic recent Polish film that I won’t spoil). Some King’s Landing questions: Have we figured out yet what exactly the Mountain was doing to Septon Unella? Do we think Jaime is going to kill Cersei next season and then himself (he did say he wants to die in the arms of the woman he loves)? And how exactly is Cersei the next rightful heir to the Throne at this point? That logic seems very iffy.

Kelly: This may not have been my favorite episode but it was a strong season finale, unafraid to make things happen and less concerned with setting up the future than dealing with the here and now. As a book reader I’m completely unconvinced any of that will ever happen on the page, but hey, it was quite a ride.

The King’s Landing scenes were incredible. The direction of this episode was really quite stunning, and at no point better than in the opening sequence. Watching Cersei, Tommen, Margaery, and the Sparrow dress was revealing, and from the moment you saw what the good queen was wearing, you knew that she was prepared for battle. I totally agree about the Tommen shot, Erin. It actually made me gasp far louder than the initial explosion. The episode did an excellent job of contrasting quieter and louder moments.

As far as Cersei ending up on the Throne, I imagine that was succession through fear. My picks if Tommen had died in terms of legal succession were Lancel or Gendry, but since Lancel is gone and Gendry is apparently still rowing that boat away from Dragonstone, Cersei was happy to fill the power void. It’s the culmination of her storyline from the very beginning of the show. She has nothing to lose (well, except Jaime, but he didn’t look to pleased) and nothing standing in the way of her power. So that’s ... scary.

Tyler: I’m with you, I think Jaime was having some serious second thoughts about his devotion to Cersei. If you’ll all recall the moment in Season 4 when Joffrey was making fun of Jaime for having his Knight’s Legacy page (or whatever it’s called in medieval speak) relatively empty except for the Kingslayer thing, it got to him. Cut to last night when Jaime confronts the fact that he’s equals with the likes of Walder Frey and then goes home to see what his precious Cersei had done ... I think Jaime’s will as a Lannister is being tested.

Jaime is a guy that will do anything for this weird relationship he has with his sister, but every Jaime story is about him being a pretty good guy when he’s separated from the desires and power plays of his name.

As for Cersei in general, she’s become a totally different character in that she’s no longer bothering with the political. She’s just this power-mad person, but not in a way where the character change is unearned. Quite the opposite!

Erin: I love that you mention the quieter moments of the episodes contrasted with the louder ones, Kelly. Sometimes GoT devotes itself to one or the other, but this finale felt like such a great balance. I loved the quiet moment between Littlefinger and Sansa when she refused him oh so eloquently. And later when he’s seething in the corner of Winterfell (Jon Snow might need to keep Melisandre around after all…) as Lady Mormont is rallying up the houses, it was a great contrast of booming victory and quiet, looming danger.

I’m glad we also finally returned to the Tower of Joy for the reveal we’ve all been waiting for. Removing myself from the context of fan theories and waiting for R+L=J to come true, it was still a very well done sequence that had me squealing.

But speaking of squealing, my absolute favorite moment of last night was, surprisingly, Arya! I’ve complained about her storyline almost every week this season, and I still have my criticisms – we didn’t need to waste that many repetitive episodes to get here. Yet still, when that overly curious girl ripped off her mask to slice Walder Frey’s throat in a perfect allusion to Catelyn’s death, I jumped up and started throwing punches at the TV in a victory dance. How long we’ve waited for that moment!

Kelly: It’s true, Erin. We have been waiting for certain moments, as fans, for a long time, and this season was very interested in giving them to us, from Benjen to R+L=J to even that moment with Arya. (I, personally, love that the Rat Cook tale came true in this way. The moral of Game of Thrones is to treat your guests well. You got that, Airbnb?) I was worried at times that this might make the season seem more fan service-y than a story in its own right but I certainly didn’t see or particularly want any of that King’s Landing insanity, so I’m pretty hopeful they can balance that too.

My big question about Arya is whether she’s going to fully take on the role of Lady Stoneheart and go after all the Freys, and possibly run into Brienne, since theoretically they’re both in the Riverlands (although by the travel laws of Westeros, she should be back to Winterfell by now. Varys needs to hand over his teleportation device). There are three big macro-stories the show has set up for next season, but I’m still interested in these less world-ending plot lines.

Tyler: I’m wondering if Arya is going to find out that her family has retaken Winterfell and, more importantly, if she’ll care. She’s driven by revenge and kind of always has been. She might not necessarily want to go back to Winterfell and be under her sister’s thumb. When they split with each other, Sansa was not the fully-powerful woman that she is today. Frankly, she was kind of a little brat that embodied everything Arya hated. The ball is very much in Arya’s court.

Also, wasn’t the whole point of killing the Waif that the Faceless god no longer required a face on the wall? If that’s the case, why was Arya able to leave with one? Was Jaqen just shaken after being at the tip of Needle that he was willing to let Arya snag a door prize on the way out in order to ... wait for it ... save face? (Nailed it!)

As for the apocalyptic elements of the show, I’m into it. This finale went big and I want more of that as the show, sadly, begins to wind down. I don’t need to see King’s Landing in ruins, but I need to see more scenes where Dany is crossing the sea with characters like Varys, Theon, Yara and Tyrion at her back. More crossovers!

Erin: The crossovers this season have been so exciting. It almost felt too good to be true most of the time; we’ve been spending time with these characters separately for so long that it almost felt like we’d never actually get to see them meet up.

To your point Kelly, I did find this season pretty fan service-y actually. I’ve had a difficult time deciding whether that’s simply because, as such avid fans, we’re so embedded in theorizing and speculating. And a lot of those theories (some based on rumors and leaks) came true. But I’m beginning to think the fan service feeling of this season is more a reflection of our TV culture at the moment, and how rapidly our viewing habits have changed as active TV watchers. I really don’t think Dan Weiss and David Benioff pay any mind to what we as fans want to see if it comprises the story, although I do feel this season’s strong feminist narratives could be in part a reaction to backlash from last season. I love that the most powerful people on the show right now are women, one of whom is being counseled by the smartest male character, Tyrion.

One quick thought on Tyrion, did his hanging glance in the finale suggest that he, too, is in love with Dany? I really didn’t expect that, but it’d an interesting set up for wherever their relationship is headed.

Some last thoughts before we wrap up, I want to list my MVPs this season. Sophie Turner is my number one; I think she gave the strongest performance this season, and has showcased the most impressive evolution of a character across the series. Liam Cunningham is also up there, who was fantastic as Ser Davos last night. And let’s not forget Hodor (RIP bud).

Kelly: I have to say it, my MVP is Lyanna Mormont. It’s like the showrunners knew she was exactly who we needed. I hope we deserve her.

Tyler: If we’re going to be picking MVPs today, I’d have to start by agreeing with you about Ser Davos. He’s as noble as Ned Stark, but he’s not dumb enough to care about the game!

As for ones no one else has come up with:

  • Tormund became an incredible ally to Jon Snow and his cause this season, which means he’s one of the few with his eye on the prize of stopping the White Walkers.
  • Yara gets a shout out for her amazing speech where she kills Reek and brings back a better version of Theon Greyjoy!
  • Finally, and this is just in the interest of fairness, Ramsay Bolton. Not because he was anything but despicable (RIP Wun Wun), but because he loomed so large over the show for so long. He took a show that brought us Joffrey Baratheon and somehow managed to still make us redefine our definition of “evil!” As awful as his acts were, the character was written very well, his impact will last forever, and his comeuppance was so satisfying when I think we were all worried it couldn’t be. A million shoutouts to Iwan Rheon for doing an amazing job.

Erin: Totally agreed, Kelly and Tyler. This season was fantastic for minor characters like Lady Mormont, Tormund, and Yara. And we of course can’t forget the always valiant Brienne. Here’s to hoping her and Pod’s boat bumps into Gendry somewhere.

Keep your coats on ya’ll, because winter has finally arrived. Until next year!